Opinion: So what if President Trump can’t spell?

President Trump
President Trump during the 2018 State of the Union address. Inability to spell is as irrelevant as hand size in terms of the harm he’s doing the nation.
(Win McNamee / AFP/Getty Images)

In the battle against President Trump, liberals, progressives and Never Trumpers must try not to become the thing they hate. We have to fight hard but not dirty. That’s difficult the more we grasp how low the president is willing to go. But still. When possible, let’s try to implement Michelle Obama’s golden rule: “When they go low, we go high.”

I can personally speak to one category of outrage where we’ve slipped from the Michelle standard: Trump’s imperfect grasp of grammar and spelling.

Online jokesters, GIF makers and late-night talk-show hosts latch onto Trump’s error-filled screeds because they know a lot of people are desperate for something harmless to laugh at. They will do anything to avoid dwelling on the actual horrific content of his tweets.

But isn’t laughing at people who are differently spelling-abled uncomfortably reminiscent of some of Trump’s repugnant mockeries? And attacking style rather than substance makes us seem petty, unlikable, effete. In terms of the harm he’s doing to the nation, Trump’s inability to spell is as irrelevant as his hand size. I think it’s a bad idea to equate his disregard for words with his disregard for the law.


Don’t get me wrong, I despise Trump. There’s virtually no misery that I’d be sorry to see overtake him. But it’s his narcissism and cruelty, not his dictionary skills, that inflame my hatred. Deploying snotty GIFs when he tweets “moot” instead of “moat” or mixes up apostrophes and hyphens makes us into bullies too. We cannot afford to be as loathsome as he is. There’s too much at stake.

Loathsomeness doesn’t win over swing voters or the GOP base, for example. I have to think that when the president’s fans see Democrats criticize him for his seriously evil doings in the same breath as his poor spelling, they roll their eyes and discount the whole critique as hysterical partisanship.

Gleeful anti-Trumpers made #liddle into a trending term after Trump’s mistake-filled Twitter attack on “Liddle’ Adam Schiff “ last month. I doubt they won hearts and minds by being condescending know-it-alls. As I recall, perceived elitism didn’t do us a lick of good in 2016.

Besides, even if it means offering sympathy to the devil, I need to speak up for those of us who have been shamed our entire lives because we can’t spell.

Being a poor speller isn’t fun. Being bad at math or sports doesn’t draw the same scorn. Nor does the inability to draw, or carry a tune, or dance. The poor-speller prejudice is similar to the fat prejudice: We are keenly aware that we are labeled lazy and dumb. Most of us are too embarrassed to leave notes or write letters after enduring a lifetime of patronizing pats on the head or hearing incredulous squawks when good spellers are taken by surprise that we aren’t one of them.

Good spellers may think Trump’s crappy command of the alphabet indicates that he’s a fool. But two things can be true without being related. Trump can have a soulless contempt for his own species and planet, and he can also be fat or have small hands or be bad at spelling. Or not. If he could get “moat” right, would he be less dangerous? Wouldn’t we detest him just as much if he weren’t orange or strangely coiffed?

It’s possible that a lot of good and great leaders were bad spellers. Until Trump bypassed aides, Cabinet members, generals and agency staff to tweet out American policy all by himself in his pajamas, we weren’t treated to a lot of presidential proclamations that hadn’t been proofread. Winston Churchill and George Washington are on “bad speller” lists on the internet.

I’ve always thought Democrats are supposed to be the party that embraces diversity, and shouldn’t that include bad spellers? Perhaps we can end the smirking over all the president’s irrelevant idiocies and concentrate on what matters. Let’s stop insulting people with whom we have bigger issues than nailing the use of the apostrophe.

After all, the nation is in peril. We have more to worry about than the typos those liddle hands make.


Amy Koss is a contributing editor to Opinion.